Editor of Guatemalan newspaper resigns over disagreement about journalistic independence

Sylvia Gereda, co-founder and director of the Guatemalan newspaper elPeriódico, said she decided to resign following a dispute with the other co-founders over shares in the newspaper that compromised its editorial independence in Gereda's opinion, according to a post made by the journalist on her blog. In a clarification, Jose Rubén Zamora, editor and founder of elPeriódico wrote, "I did not censor her work not is it true that Manuel Baldizón, presidential candidate, interferes, much less is the owner of elPeriódico, as she says."

Gereda published an opinion piece opposing the candidacy of Manuel Baldizón for president because of his ties to the mafia. Days later, she learned from a letter signed by Baldizón that his family had commercial interests in elPeriódico.

"I have to admit, this letter left me paralyzed. First, because I had never invited Baldizón or his family to become shareholders in the newspaper that I founded and I've never been his friend, as the letter insinuated; and he certainly doesn't know my 'beautiful family.' As I read it, this last line is a veiled threat," Gereda wrote in her letter of resignation, which was not published by the newspaper, which denies Gereda's allegations of censorship or editorial interference by Baldizón.

"Two presidential candidates, Otto Pérez Molina and Manuel Baldizón, also are minority stock holders in this journalistic company," Zamora wrote. "I should say that Otto Pérez never has asked me for a favor or bothered me, while Manuel is capable of harassing and making explode the most patient. None the less, we never have given him any concession and elPeriódico has been the most critical of his crazy ideas, many extravagances and excentricities... We are independent critics, and those associates with public responsibilities have been and will be the object of analysis and scrutiny like any other Guatemalan. They bought some of the newspaper's 5,000 shares, but never immunity, impunity, or privileges."

After realizing that Baldizón's family owned stock in elPeriódico, the newspaper's investigative reporting team, including Marvin del Cid, Gerson Gudiel, Mario Alfario, and Juan Carlos Barillas, also resigned, according to the organization Cerigua.

Gereda left the newspaper on the eve of its 15th anniversary and just days before the second round of presidential elections in Guatemala on Nov. 6.

"My moral principles do not permit me to keep silent or have business relations with a politician like Baldizón, who is tied to organized crime that peddle political influence in the Congress," Gereda said.

Zamora lamented "this incident distracting public attention with the newspaper's mere internal matter. This is not about any change in the editorial line of elPeriódico, nor a restructuring of shares, and even less about censorship. This matter was made public, inevitably, because we are public journalists. This is not the first test that we as a newspaper have confronted, nor will it be the last. The crisis this has generated has forced us to reflect, to be more professional, more rigorous with the truth and to commit ourselves to building a decent and dignified country, free from entrenched powers."

According to Noticieros Televisa, Baldizón also threatened the life of reporter Jorge Jiménez of Radio Nuevo Mundo after he asked the candidate a difficult question.